Yesterday was our weekly shopping trip and instead of simply driving to the IGA in the nearby village, we drove further down the coast, to Gibsons. I wanted to buy some alfalfa pellets for the garden and a big bag of the wonderful fertilizer mix the farm and garden centre prepares — kelp meal, canola meal, rock phosphate, alfalfa meal, and lime. We were equipped with gloves, masks, sanitizer, and wipes. It was good to see the mountains on Vancouver Island, bright with snow on top, and the flowering trees in all the gardens, but it also felt strange to be away from home. It’s always felt safe but now it’s more than that, a haven, a solace, every corner known and loved. I’d bought a few things for a neighbour, to make the trip even more useful, and she came up to collect them. Keeping our distance, we talked by her car. In the days that seem like they were years ago instead of months, I’d have offered her a drink on the deck. Instead, she stood back as I loaded her 10 kgs. of alfalfa into her trunk. We laughed about it but it makes me wonder if all of us will return to old ease with visitors, our old generosities. Some days I can’t imagine setting the table for more than two.
In the meantime, so much goes on as it always has. Two sapsuckers chirred and buzzed in the crabapple tree beyond the garden when I was planting some tiny rapini seedlings. I noticed chickadees entering the little oval opening of the cedar house on a post nearby. We built the houses for violet-green swallows who check them out and decide against them; the chickadees are happy to use them instead. I love to watch the whole cycle enact itself over the season: nesting materials carried to the houses, the soft sound of nestlings, the faces in the opening, and then if we’re lucky the sight of the young leaving for the first time on wings they’ve never used before.
On a walk the other day, warblers in the maple blossoms. Bleeding hearts were in bloom along the trail. Spring beauties, salmonberry plants with their cerise flowers open to the sun. And the stars are so close and bright these April nights! When I woke at midnight and stood at the western window, I swear they were close enough to touch. I thought of Du Fu, a good companion for these days when we don’t know the future.
Flowers in shadow, palace wall at dusk,
Chirping birds are flying back to roost.
Stars move above the ten thousand doors;
The moon is big nearing the nine heavens.
Not sleeping, I hear a golden key;
In the wind, I think there are jade pendants.
Tomorrow morning, I have to present a memorial,
Again and again, I ask about the night.